Remember when you were a kid and needed a permission slip? It was like a golden ticket. If Mom signed it, that meant the field trip to the pumpkin patch was in your sights. Way better to spend the day running through corn mazes than practicing multiplication. Permission slips were a promise, a signed document, a binding contract that held our fate. As kids, we were at the mercy of our parents to sign it and our teachers to check us off the list. Our responsibility was in the transportation. To make sure all parties were properly notified. And nothing was sweeter than the escape that a field trip promised.
Then we grew up. And we become the permission granters. To our kids and even to ourselves. Yet often times we forget we have that kind of power. Especially power over our own lives.
For five years I was apart of this life-giving Mom group that met at our church. It was truly food for my soul. I met some amazing friends there. Throughout the years, many speakers have come through the doors but one in particular really resonated with me. The director of women’s ministry shared this incredibly powerful message about permission slips. She said that as women we carry the weight of many responsibilities. We run families, businesses and marathons. And through the course of life we define ourselves in many different ways and bear the weight of those responsibilities. Those burdens can leave us exhausted, depleted, frustrated, depressed, the list goes on. But what if we gave ourselves permission to loosen the grip on our lives and let something go? Or what if we gave ourselves permission to finally rest? Or add something wonderful that was like letting sunshine into a dark room? Then she asked us, what would you give yourself permission to do or not do?
That was a hard question to answer. I felt like my plate was full and life was jam-packed with all the things this stage of life with young kids can bring. Things like homework and sports and making lunches and dance and volunteering at school and storytime and laundry and washing dishes and and changing diapers and more laundry and dinner. Oh, dinner…again. Things that make life go ‘round and yet the constant “on the go” was starting to really drag me down. I felt like I couldn’t keep up with the tempo I had set for my life. My sanity was on the brink most nights and I felt like I was losing my joy. I wasn’t a happy mom, wife or human. I was going through the motions but the light inside me was flickering at best.
When I heard this talk…I was floored. Tears welled up in my eyes as her story was my story. I was crumbling under the weight of trying to live this polished life. I’m not saying any of these things are bad. But in that snapshot of time, I couldn’t do any of it very well. With a one year old under my feet (or scaling the kitchen counters) and two big kids who very much needed me, a husband who worked long hours and this perfectionist mentality relentlessly pushing me forward, I was left exhausted. Completely worn out. And I was in need of asking the questions:
What is my permission slip? What do I need to give up? Or add? Where do I need to give myself permission to seek joy in this life?
Staring at the paper, I felt my shoulders tighten a little. Felt my jaw tense up. This was hard. I wanted to do everything well. I wanted to say “Yes!” I wanted to be the fun Mom with the best snacks and Pinterest worthy birthday parties. I wanted to be in great there’s-no-way-you’ve-had-three-kids shape. I wanted to cook healthy meals every night. I wanted to go on dates with my hubby to fun new places and have girls nights on the regular. I wanted a beautifully kept home. But real life happens. Kids get sick. Husbands work late. A well intentioned healthy meal turns into frozen pizza after doing homework and shuttling two kids to and from soccer practices. And the baby…destruction is her jam. I laugh at the word phase! We’ll see when she outgrows this one. She still really enjoys squeezing applesauce on the rug. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with those pouches! The point is the unexpected, unintended life is often the life we live. It makes for those beautiful unexpected baby smiles when you lock eyes and wonder if it’s their first “real smile” or just gas. Either way the result is melting.
So I had to let my perfectionism go. It was a struggle. Like an arm wrestling match I so badly didn’t want to lose. But in the end, my sanity had to win out. I had to take a step back and realize that life isn’t about creating beautiful moments it’s about celebrating the beauty that is already in front of me. It’s about enjoying my kids and their shenanigans even if that means they don’t get to bed on time. Or we each grilled cheese, again. Or the clean laundry sits in the dryer one more day. Sorry, no budging on teeth brushing. This one is non-negotiable.
I want to tell you it was easy. That once I made the decision, everything just fell into place. But that’s not the truth. The honest answer is that I still very much struggle. I have to remind myself daily to be gentle because I’m not perfect. I know I’m doing the best I can and that is good enough. I am allowed to prioritize, strategize, ask for help and rest (even binge watch some reality TV!) Because we all need a break. And that is not only OK, but it’s good for us.
I look at my now two year old who amazingly told me right before nap time today, “Me tired” and then proceeded to lay her sweet little blonde curls on her pillow. Here’s to striving to being more like my toddler and listening to my own needs a little more closely. She even took a two hour nap and woke up so happy! My hope and prayer for you (and for me!) is to give ourselves permission to embrace whatever stage of life we are in, listen to our own needs a bit more closely and have the courage to cut out the things that stand in the way of our joy. I’m still very much on my journey and would really love to hear about yours.
Where do you struggle? What do you need to give yourself a permission slip for? How do you handle the stresses of life? Please share! I look forward to hearing from you.